Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hear her voice as it's rolling and ringing through me

What a weird album.  It's kind of hard to believe that an album that mentions semen so many times could be doing so out of necessity.  It's kind of hard to believe that a nasal voice, jangly guitar, and trumpets could produce something so inherently sad.  It's really hard to believe that an album proclaimed to be the spiritual and artistic response of Jeff Mangum's reading "The Diary of a Young Girl" actually feels spiritual and artistic.  It's certainly hard to believe that something that feels so sloppy on the surface could be so incredibly fucking precise.

This album turns 20 this year and I'm still not quite sure what it is.  Take this stanza from "Oh Comely":
Oh comely, all of your friends are letting you blow
Bristling and ugly, bursting with fruits falling out from the holes
Of some pretty, bright, and bubbly friend
You could need to say comforting things in your ear
But oh comely, there isn't such one friend that you could find here
Standing next to me, he's only my enemy
I'll crush him with everything I own.
The stanza, like the song itself, starts off somewhere in the intersection of sexuality and innocence, but keeps tiptoeing through haunting imagery, ultimately drawing back on the Anne Frank imagery.  There's not a clarity of purpose to the lyrics, but there's certainly an emotional confusion, almost a battle of perspectives, occurring throughout.  It's hard from reading to see how such lyrics could be sung with emotion, but here we get Magnum's vocal duality - not a traditionally strong voice, but a superb tonality.  His battle, I perceive, is between the need to maintain a monotone matter-of-factness and the insuppressible meaning that ultimately forces its way out at the end of each sentence.  It's as if his voice is the light, the truth, the innocence trying to break from his knowledge of mortal realities.  The lyrics, the music, and the vocals are all portraying a child's perception of a dark world.

Age, maturity, and time have perhaps diminished the album's impact on me, but they've also given me some degree of appreciation, if for no other reason than that in the past 20 years, no other band has ever recreated all its parts.  Sure, you get your watered down fantasy bands - your Okkervil Rivers, for example.  A few bands have captured the sound, but not the lyrics.  Or the lyrics, but not the depth.  Given the complexity of the sound, we could maybe make a comparison to Brian Wilson, but that feels a somewhat hollow comparison.

I don't know how to end this.  I've just been listening to this a lot again and have been reading the lyrics and their interpretations on  I subsequently found myself in this hole.  What's with all the flowers?  "Semen stains the mountaintops"?  Are Jeff's words his own or those of an interpreter character?  Is Jeff the two-headed boy?  Why do these songs have multiple parts?  Are they even different songs then??